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Weaponized Interdependence


F-35A with all weapon bay doors open.
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook

Someone in comments noted that my recent posts have talked about the concept of “weaponized interdependence.” Dan has discussed weaponized interdependence before; it’s the idea (coined by Henry Farrell) that states can leverage certain nodes in the globalized economy to force their preferences upon others. Interdependent relations are often unequal relationships, and states can leverage them for coercive purposes. It’s neat and intuitive, and it helps to link an ocean of work in international political economy to a mountain of work in security studies, alongside a… I dunno… forest of work about hegemony in international order.

Henry has an article and a website and a twitter feed dedicated to discussing the topic, mostly because he’s received strong, positive feedback from scholarly and policy communities. For my own part, a lot of my recent work has used the concept to think through the effect of the internationalization of intellectual property law on technology and national security. I recently wrote three columns for the Diplomat about the weaponization of intellectual property law in the US-China relationship. This is related to a forthcoming book on national security and intellectual property law from the University of Chicago Press.

The first piece takes a look at the weaponization of IP protection in the US attack on Huawei; the second looks at the risks inherent in such an attack; and the third looks at ways China could respond to the attack:

The international community accepted the growth of the international IP regime because of pressure, yes, but also because they saw advantage in promising to follow the rules that the United States helped to set. Allowing serious damage to major corporations (not just Huawei, but also all of the firms that do business with Huawei) was not part of the deal. As nations perceive IP law not simply as an obstacle to navigate, but also as a potentially lethal weapon directed at the core interests of their major corporations, they may well become more reticent about accepting the preconditions that the United States wants to establish. And that, in the end, means that efforts to exercise U.S. power may result in the loss of that power. The next column in this series will investigate the global impact of changed understandings of interdependence.

Comments certainly welcome on the research agenda, and the specifics of the Huawei situation. Those who observe that this feels a lot like desperation on the part of the Trump administration, and that the US may be eating its seed corn, certainly aren’t wrong.

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